Thrifting 101: Is thrifting getting too expensive?

Last week I made a quick thrifting pit stop while on my lunch hour, and I came across this:

Maybe it's a product of living in a major metropolitan city, or maybe it's something that's part of a growing trend. I'm talking, of course, about how ridiculous thrift store prices have become.

The tag above was for a vintage 1960's double-faced wool dress. Almost certainly adorable in its day, it was now moth-eaten and peppered with irreversible yellowing along the hem. I found it in a little hole-in-the-wall store tucked in the back of a decrepit strip mall, the kind of dusty place where you're more likely to discover avocado green Tupperware, macrame plant holders, Burl Ives records and men's butterfly collar polyester shirts than designer items - far from the high-end, curated shop that can justify overpriced vintage.

I was absolutely baffled by this price tag. Really? Forty-five dollars for a stained dress? For that price, I could go to a reputable Etsy dealer or local vintage shop and invest in a gorgeous piece in nearly perfect condition. Why on earth would I pay nearly fifty dollars for a stained dress?

Whether it's a charity shop or larger-scale thrift store, prices are definitely on the rise. Blame the faltering economy or trendiness of thrifting (personally, I fault Macklemore,) thrifting has never been so popular. Resale shops are thriving, popping up across the country. In 2011, the number of resale shops has increased by 7%. According to Britt Beemer, founder and chairman of America's Research Group, much of the recent growth can be attributed to young shoppers, many of whom are passing on trips to the mall in favor of thrift stores. About 20% of people shop in thrift stores regularly, compared with about 14% in 2008. Jim Gibbons, CEO and president of Goodwill states that Goodwill Industries has expanded into 2,700 stores in 15 countries since its inception in 1902. The total donated goods revenue for the Goodwill network is more than $3 billion.

At my local Goodwill, I've seen H&M dresses for $19 - more expensive than their counterparts on the sales rack in an H&M store. The bottom line is that all thrift stores, including Goodwill, get their merchandise for free. While some stores use proceeds from sales towards supporting charities, there are others that don't. It's also worth noting that at $719,147, Goodwill chief Michael Miller is the highest-paid nonprofit CEO in Oregon, and one of the wealthiest CEO's in the country. The  Goodwill store of Columbia-Willamette booked $106.4 million in 2010 revenue.

So much for non-profit.

So now I ask you: Have you noticed the same thing in your area? Are some thrift stores too expensive? What's the most you're willing to spend on an item in a thrift store?


  1. I ran across a similar piece in a thrift store a few weeks ago. $50 for a vintage purse! Nothing special about it, and not in that great of shape. I was baffled.

    In general I haven't noticed too much of a rise in prices here in Mid-Michigan, but I have in other areas of Michigan. Goodwill is probably the worst offender.

  2. I was at Thrift Town (in Ft. Worth) earlier this week and was thinking that same thing. For the most part, the higher prices items are usually things that are designer labels, or things that still have the store tags on them. Either way, I prefer thrifting because of the bargains I find. If I wanted to pay full price I'd got to a store in the mall or something similar.


  3. My favorite thrift store (Catholic charity) has great sales. Yesterday I bought Everything for $.10 each. Men's short sleeve shirts were just 10 cents! I bought a couple of orange plaid ones to make cloth pumpkins. So they do cater to people who want to be thrifty. I have a recent blogpost about who wears clothes from Goodwill. Linda@Wetcreek Blog

  4. I've found that new items at Target are less than our Goodwill. And the stuff at Goodwill is horribly worn out and not worth $1.

  5. I completely agree. Here in the DMV, I find myself having to rely on coupons and store discounts to get what I feel is a fare deal. It absolutely tickles me when I see thrift store prices tags that are higher or comparable to their retail counterparts.

  6. You know, I was thinking the same thing about some items. This season I saw brand new items (tags still on) from Target, and while the costumes and candles from last year's inventory were a bargain, the socks and a few other items were more expensive than I got them at Target on sale last could peel back the sticker and underneath was the Target tag for cheaper!

    It's really a mixed bag at Goodwill..I've found some amazing steals, like Aldo boots stickers on for $115 for $9 ...but sometimes you have to wonder!


  7. OUTSTANDING commentary, Elissa. I'm on the Cdn side of the border, but what you've described here is becoming epidemic. Your observation that prices on items in the non-profits often exceed sale prices for the same item in its original store rings true.
    I am staggered to read about the salary for the Goodwill CEO; gonna have to do some research up here (we've got Goodwill too).
    Thanks for telling it like it is! xo!

  8. I went into a thrift store in Elizabethtown, PA their prices were not friendly. I thought the same way, I could get it cheaper, and new at a regular store on the sale rack.

  9. I went into a thrift store in Elizabethtown, PA. Was not impressed by their prices. Everything was more expensive than if I'd gone to a regular store and shopped the sale racks.

  10. The Goodwills in my area have a $1.49 tag sale on Tuesdays (all items of a certain color tag are $1.49). I'll scrounge around for items for that price. Sometimes I'll find regular-priced items that I'm willing to pay a couple more bucks for, but they better be high-end pieces in great shape (ha, I'm a secondhand-clothes snob!). A few of the other thrift stores have outrageous prices, especially on coats. No way am I spending $40 for a used coat! That said, have you seen prices in the mall lately? Yes, you might be able to score on the clearance rack, but I get sticker shock looking at what they want you to pay for a basic pair of jeans.


I love my readers! Comments are welcomed and appreciated.